The US is the undisputed leader in artificial intelligence (AI) development while China is the fastest-growing country set to overtake the US in five to 10 years on its current trajectory, according to The Global AI Index published this week by Tortoise Intelligence.

The index, which ranks 54 countries based on their AI capabilities, measured seven key indicators over 12 months: talent, infrastructure, operating environment, research, development, government strategy and commercial ventures.

The US was ahead on the majority of key metrics by a significant margin. It received a score of 100, almost twice as high as second-placed China with 58.3, due to the quality of its research, talent and private funding. The UK, Canada and Germany ranked 3rd, 4th and 5th respectively.

Hong Kong ranked 25th, scoring relatively well for infrastructure but less well on the operating environment. Singapore ranked 7th, scoring strongly on talent but less well on operating environment.

As a defining technology of the future that has the potential to transform multiple industries from finance to transport, AI has become a new battleground for countries vying for future economic influence and power.

The number of AI companies globally has doubled in four years, with almost 20,000 now developing technologies ranging from self-driving cars to medical algorithms capable of detecting disease, and more than 10,000 AI companies have been founded since 2015 attracting private funding of some US$37 billion, Tortoise Intelligence said.

Thousands of extra programmers have been pulled into AI projects globally in the last three years as demand for the technology soars. The report revealed that on Github, the world’s biggest open-source development platform, the number of Chinese contributions to AI code has risen from 150 per year in 2015 to 13,000 per year today. American contributions have risen from 7,000 to 42,000.

Over the next decade, more than US$35 billion has been publicly earmarked by governments to spend on AI development, with US$22 billion promised by China alone, according to the report.

Aiming to become a global leader in AI by 2030, China is backing its national AI plan with substantial resources.

In 2017, the year China published its “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan”, the country accounted for 48%of total equity funding for AI start-ups compared to 38% funded by the US and 13 per cent by the rest of the world.

However, amid the battle for AI supremacy between the world’s two largest economies, Washington blacklisted eight prominent Chinese AI firms in October over Beijing’s alleged human rights violations against Uygur Muslims and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

The move effectively barred these companies, including national AI champions SenseTime, Megvii, Hikvision and iFlyTek, from purchasing technology or components of US-origin.